Tuesday, March 04, 2014

A Tuesday By Many Other Names

This day in the church year is known by at least twenty different names depending on the area of the world and the branch of Christianity practised there. I was brought up calling it Pancake Tuesday at home and Shrove Tuesday at church.  The former because it was tradition to have pancakes for dinner that evening of the year, the later because in the old Anglican tradition it was the time to confess and be shriven of your sins.  We never questioned why pancakes on that particular day but I've since learned that it was because you used up all the flour,  sugar and eggs in the larder before the days of denial that traditionally marked the meals in Lent.   Of course there was none of this confession Popery tainting our small low-church parish in the out-most wilds west of Toronto.

An engraving from Harper's Weekly, March 1884
In other cultures the day had names such Fastnacht in Germany, Tłusty Czwartek (Paczki Day) in Poland, Máirt Inide in Ireland and Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) in more cultures than you can name.  And of course midnight on Mardi Gras official marks the end of Carnival in most cultures - I know of only one exception and that's Milan where it goes on until Saturday because of the observance of The Ambroisian Rite.  The word Carnival itself derives from the Lenten tradition of abstaining from meat -  carne levare (to take away meat.

Though Carnival is celebrated is many places the three most famous Carnivals are Venice,  Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans.  I've been to the first, just missed the second by a week and have always vowed to go the one closest.  The first record of a Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans was in 1835 though its hard to believe that some form of Carnival didn't take place in earlier times in this most French-Creole of cities.  Cosmus, the first parade Krewe was formed in 1856 and the tradition of Krewes - secret societies - grew out of it.  There are now some 60 krewes holding events - parades, balls, theatrical performances, cook-outs, children's festivals - throughout the period of Carnival.

A parade through the French Quarter - date unknown.
In the early "Golden Age" of Carnival, colourful parade bulletins were published to give the public a glimpse of parade themes and float designs.  And postcards were issued so that friends and relative who were unlucky enough to not be joining in the fun could catch a glimpse of what they were missing.  The Krew of Rex has reinstated the bulletins however unfortunately any pictures of them are too small to be appreciated the way they should be.  However the New Orleans Mardi Gras Postcard Museum has a wonderful complete set of postcards from the 1907 Rex Parade.  A click on the postcard below will take you to it.

Rex - the King of Mardi Gras - led of the 1907 Rex Parade in fine style.  A right click on
the picture will take you to the complete 20 postcard set.  The theme that year was
Classics of Childhood.
I think I'll reaffirm that vow see the parades, maybe catch some beads or doubloons and hear the cries of "Mardi Gras is over.  Go Home." that are echo through the streets of the French Quarter even as they are doing while I am posting this at 2359 on Mardi Gras 2014. 

March 4 - 1837 - The city of Chicago is incorporated.

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Debra She Who Seeks said...

I always assumed that "carnival" came from "carne vale" -- "farewell meat". Shows what I know, eh? I made blueberry pancakes for dinner last night. Then My Rare One and I threw beads at each other and got up to all sorts of antics.

Willym said...

@Debra - there seems to be some discussion as to the true etymology of the word. Would seem it depends on who you read - so there you see you do know!

Hope nobody got hurt in the bead tossing and antics?

Ur-spo said...

I wore some beads to work this day. I feared I would shock the patients, but no one batted an eye. I was a bit disappointed.